A Message From Dr. Richard Friend, Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences

September 15, 2020

COVID-19 cases appear to be slowing in Tuscaloosa, which is good news. But we are still dealing with the coronavirus. And with flu season upon us, there is worry about an overlap of the two, which makes getting a flu shot this year more important than ever.

We don’t know what might happen when COVID-19 and the flu are present at the same time. The two viruses could place a double burden on people and the healthcare system. Or, the COVID-19 safety precautions we are already taking – wearing masks, practicing social distancing, staying home if sick and frequent hand washing – may reduce the spread of the flu.

We don’t yet know, and it’s hard to predict.

What we do know is that flu shots will limit the number of people who get the flu, and that will ease the load on a healthcare system continuing to care for people with COVID-19.

Flu shots will mean fewer patients coming to doctors’ offices and hospitals with illnesses that need to be sorted out, since flu symptoms – fever, muscle aches and cough – can be similar to those of COVID-19. If fewer people require hospitalization for flu, more hospital beds and personal protective equipment will be available for COVID-19 patients. In addition, stress will be reduced on labs, which use the same machinery and supplies to analyze diagnostic tests for both COVID-19 and the flu.

Yearly flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older and they are particularly important for people at risk for serious complications from the flu: children younger than five years, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic disease conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

On average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick each year from the flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; last year, 34,200 Americans died from the flu. But when a sufficient portion of the population is vaccinated from an infectious disease like the flu, it makes the spread of the disease from person to person less likely. Even individuals who are not vaccinated, such as newborns, are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.

University Medical Center works each year to protect not only the West Alabama community, but also The University of Alabama community, from the flu. Beginning in early September and continuing to mid-November, UMC leads UA’s annual flu shot campaign, setting up sites across campus where UA faculty, staff and students can receive free flu shots (no insurance required). Nurses from UMC and the University’s Student Health Center, as well as nursing students from UA’s Capstone College of Nursing, administer the shots. WellBAMA is also a partner in the flu shot campaign.

When enough people are vaccinated, it is more difficult for the flu virus to spread and that means everyone is less likely to get the flu. And that’s never been as important as it is right now.

The College of Community Health Sciences operates University Medical Center